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Carver High broke special-education law by suspending student for nearly 5 weeks

George Washington Carver Collegiate Academy charter high school got in serious trouble earlier this year for suspending a student with disabilities for nearly five weeks, more than double the time allowed by law.

The Louisiana Department of Education told the Collegiate Academies board it was in breach of it charter contract for violating federal law. The school returned to good standing last week after completing corrective action prescribed by the department.

The sanction was in the middle of the three available to the state Education Department if a charter school has significant financial, academic or organizational issues. It can also issue a notice of concern, which is essentially a written warning, or it can begin a review process aimed at revoking the school’s charter.

The school’s problem stems from its suspension of a special-education student and its recommendation to expel, according to the notice from the state.

By district policy, the administration had five days to get the necessary paperwork to the city’s centralized Student Hearing Office. But it took them nearly a month. The school’s expulsion recommendation of Sept. 24 didn’t arrive at the hearing office until Oct. 22. The hearing office denied the expulsion request.

In that time, the school didn’t let the student attend classes, and federal law limits students receiving special-education services to 10 days of suspension per academic year.

In total, the student missed 24 days before the first half of the academic year was over.

The student was not allowed to return to school until Oct. 29, according to the notice. The student missed 21 instructional days in this incident. Tack on a prior one-day suspension and a two-day suspension in December and the student missed 24 days as of the Jan. 6 notice.

It’s not the first time Collegiate has received unwanted attention for its discipline practices, drawing parent protests in the fall of 2013. In 2012-13, the network’s three schools had the highest suspension rates in the city.

The school serves about 425 high school students on its Read Boulevard campus in eastern New Orleans, and it earned a C on the state accountability report card issued in November.

The department issues notices of breach when charter schools violate the state’s charter school performance compact. In order to avoid harsher penalties, which could include charter revocation, schools must complete a series of corrective actions specific to their problems to return to good standing.

In this case, Collegiate had to develop a plan to make up special education minutes owed to the student and outline a plan to educate staff about the Student Hearing Office’s policies and timelines.

According to a Jan. 29 letter from the department, Collegiate returned to good standing after meeting its Jan. 15 deadline.

“We are thankful to our partnership with LDOE and for them flagging a situation that needed immediate attention,” school spokeswoman Zoey Reed said via email Tuesday. “We have put proactive measures in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Reed said she could not put The Lens in contact with the student’s family due to privacy laws.

The Lens received the notice after submitting a state public-records request for all notices of breach and notices of concern issued to charters schools between Nov. 1 and Jan. 14.

It took the Department of Education three weeks to respond to The Lens’ Jan. 14 request, well beyond what state public records law allows.

In that time, the state was in touch with the ReNEW Schools charter network about what would become a notice of breach just issued on Friday. That, too, was because of problems with special education.

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